To Be or Not to Be… Not the V&A’s Question

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Published March 19, 2009

For a culture whose intelligentsia thrives on its country’s literary and theatrical history, England’s former Theatre Museum—an outpost of the V&A Museum—was an embarrassment: airless, dungeon-like galleries about as appealing as a visit to Alcatraz. But now Shakespeare, Mick Jagger, and Kylie Minogue fans alike can rejoice once more. The cash-strapped V&A unveiled its new Theatre and Performance galleries this week, a compromise to what theatre-lovers hoped would be a new building dedicated to the relics, but nevertheless debunking the theory that V&A was treating the Theatre Museum like a poor relation (how English). In fact, the new galleries have been incorporated into (or arguably squeezed into) V&A’s South Kensington site, with a collection of treasures—including a Mick Jagger jumpsuit, Margot Fonteyn’s “Swan Lake” tutu, the Lord Chamberlain’s censored script of Joe Orton’s “Loot,” and the manuscript of “The School for Scandal”—curated by Kate Dorney and her team. Displayed in broad categories like  ‘Creating’, ‘Rehearsing’ and ‘Producing’, but the span of performance arts that it covers and impressive remnants of England’s exalted theatrical history will keep thespians at bay… for at least a few more years. (LEFT: NUREYEV AT THE THREATRE MUSEUM)